ucanews.com reporter, BangkokUpdated: April 24, 2018 10:14 AM GMT
British labor activist Andy Hall speaks to the media as he arrives at Bangkok South Criminal Court in Bangkok in this September 2016 file photo. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)
A British rights activist has accused Thai authorities of "unacceptable judicial harassment" after a court in Bangkok issued an arrest warrant for him on April 24 in connection with a high-profile defamation case heavily criticized by rights groups.
The Bangkok South Criminal Court ordered the immediate issuance of an arrest warrant for activist Andy Hall with a view to ensuring his attendance to hear appeal verdicts in connection with a September 2016 criminal conviction.
The court was expected to give its verdicts on April 24 but adjourned the hearing to May 31 as Hall was not in court.
The activist is no longer resident in Thailand and claims he received no formal summons to attend court to hear the verdicts.
"I have faced intolerable amounts of judicial harassment which essentially undermined my ability to do human rights work effectively inside Thailand. This is why I left the country in November 2016," Hall said in response to the issuing of the warrant.
"I am disappointed and concerned this warrant has now being issued for my arrest and this unacceptable judicial harassment against me continues unabated."
Hall said he would make representations to the British government and the European Union to immediately raise concerns on whether the arrest warrant was in accordance with Thai and international law.
Diplomats from the EU Mission to Thailand alongside British, Finnish and Swedish embassy officials attended the April 24 hearing, a source at the court said.
Hall was sentenced to four years' imprisonment (reduced by one year and suspended by two years) and ordered to pay a fine of 200,000 baht (reduced to 150,000 baht) following his conviction on criminal defamation and Computer Crimes Act charges.
Thai pineapple company Natural Fruit Co. Ltd. initiated proceedings against him in 2013.The activist left Thailand shortly after his conviction claiming unbearable judicial harassment when additional charges were filed against him by a chicken farm, Thammakaset Company Ltd., in November 2016.
His lawyers submitted an appeal against the conviction in February 2017.
Natural Fruit had also appealed the verdict in December 2016 seeking an immediate custodial sentence.Hall's legal troubles began following the publication of a report he wrote called "Cheap Has a High Price" for Finnish watchdog Finnwatch.
It included interviews with Natural Fruit workers and detailed allegations of labor abuse which prompted the company to file defamation charges.
The resulting high-profile case — widely criticized by rights groups — has highlighted Thailand's controversial defamation law, a criminal offense. Critics say it is used by big business and the influential to silence criticism and avoid accountability.
Should Hall fail to appear at the Bangkok court again on May 31, the verdict may be read in absentia.
Finnwatch said it was hopeful Hall would be acquitted.
"The charges against him stem from his legitimate work as a human rights defender and migrant worker rights activist. He is not a criminal," said Sonja Vartiala, executive director of Finnwatch.